Maus and the Teaching of the Holocaust

One thing to watch for when discussing the Maus banning “discussion” is what kind of books are being offered as an acceptable alternative. Because you’ll find, fascinatingly, the ones that they tend to offer as being acceptable:

1) Minimize the violence against Jews;

2) Focus primarily on Good Gentiles Doing Good Things (GGDGT); or

3) Both.

The Diary of Anne Frank is acceptable because it doesn’t show what happens to Anne, and because it is filled with Good Gentiles doing Good Things.Number the Stars? Heroines survive due to the efforts of GGDGT.Same issues with the Book Thief, same with Boy in the Striped Pajamas, etc.

Not to say they aren’t good books. I loved Number the Stars as a kid, and the Diary of Anne Frank is beautiful because it is so much about the humanity of Anne–but if you look at the way it is taught, so much focuses on the people doing the hiding.

Maus is different. Maus is a story centered on Jews, told in a Jewish way, in which there is horrible violence and no GGDGT to save the day. There is no redemption, there is no salvation, there is only a story so terrible it has to be told and a need to remember.

People like this school board are perfectly comfortable teaching the Holocaust as long as it isn’t too violent, too sad, or too Jew-y. Because to them it isn’t a lesson about (largely if by no means exclusively) Jewish trauma, it’s a lesson about Good Gentiles Doing Good Things. The rest–our story, our tragedy, our people and families–are just set dressings for the moral and often explicitly religious lessons they want to take from the Shoah.

That’s in part because to most of these people, Jews are something to consider in the abstract. Only 22,000 of the 6.8 million people in Tennessee are Jews. 0.32%.And so erasing our real history, our real stories, is just a rounding error. Not consciously for most, not on purpose for most, but the end result is the same. They take our story, our deeply Jewish story, and file in substitutes that highlight their story–the story of how a group of kind hearted Good Gentiles Doing Good Things stopped some sad things they don’t want to think about too hard because the people doing the sad things looked like them and attended the churches of their denominations.

(Credit to @justsayxtian on Twitter for the original thoughts behind this. If you want to support me I’ve put up a Ko-fi, because if I’m going to go viral why not.

One thought on “Maus and the Teaching of the Holocaust”

  1. In before anti-Semitic comments. 🙂

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